Addiction isn’t limited to drugs or alcohol. In a digitally-driven culture, social media addiction is, unfortunately, becoming a common occurrence. Screen time has always been a concern for parents trying to strike a balance with their children. Clinical research has revealed the negative impact of addiction to the internet or social media on mental health in general. However, it’s even more damaging for a child’s young brain that’s still developing.
That raises questions like how much screen time is healthy for a child to consume? What are the warning signs of a social media addiction? And what can a parent do to set healthy boundaries around screen time to avoid this new disease?
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The Dangers of Social Media Addiction
With smartphones, the dangers of developing a social media addiction are at an all-time high. For a teenager, this ready access to devices can be detrimental to their mental health when consumed too much. The Addiction Center states that approximately 27 percent of children who spend three or more hours a day on social media exhibit symptoms of declining mental health.
There are less serious consequences like impacting the quality of sleep. But there are some severe negative effects of overconsuming digital media. Psychology research reveals that overconsumption of digital technology increases the risk of anxiety and depression. It leads to comparison, even eroding people’s ability to empathize as they learn to compete with friends. And it’s even been shown that adolescents who were regularly using social media from a young age had severely stunted social interaction skills. Clearly, it’s essential to know the dangers of addiction and how it can impact your child’s developing brain, overall wellbeing, and personal growth.
The Brain Science Behind Over Usage
Social media platforms are designed to create experiences that activate signals in the brain that release dopamine, a feel-good chemical. For teenagers whose pre-frontal cortex is still developing, it can be more challenging to pull away from screens or a mobile app. The pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for things like logical decision-making and critical thinking. With apps designed to flood their brains with quick hits, it ends up making it difficult for their developing minds to focus and engage with non-screen-related activities.
Signs of a Teenager Addicted to Social Media
While your teenager may use online platforms more than you’re comfortable with, there is a distinction between impulsive screen behavior and a true social media addiction disorder. If you notice three or more of these signs, then it’s possible a screen addiction may be at play:
- Spending a lot of time planning or thinking about using social media
- Displaying urges to use it more
- Using it as a way to escape personal problems
- Attempts to reduce use without success
- Becoming restless when not able to use it
- And using it so much that it negatively impacts their school work or personal life, taking them away from previous interests
What to do if Your Child Has an Addiction
If your child is glued to phone or computer screens, you can take steps to bring them back to a healthy level of consumption. Exercise and play are among the best ways to build their brains’ level of attention and focus on things outside of a virtual world. Cutting off social media entirely doesn’t work. But it does benefit children to set limits and practice restraint, building up healthy habits and controlling boundaries around their screen time.
Ultimately, as a parent and adult, you can also teach them healthy behavior by modeling it for them. Most of us are guilty of spending too much time online. Setting our own boundaries and limiting consumption can teach our children how to navigate a world designed to draw their attention and keep them consuming.
This can look like having designated times where no phones are allowed to be used, such as at family game night or while eating dinner. More family outings and activities like hikes or trips to the playground can pull children back into the real world. Deleting social media apps over the weekend is another great option for limiting use.
While you may be feeling overwhelmed, cutting back your and your child’s social media use or curbing digital addiction is possible. And the endeavor is well worth it. With social media being a proven factor in negative mental health issues and even impacting social skills and attention span, cutting back will provide a host of positive benefits that far outweigh the dopamine hits provided through social platforms. You may even notice a shift in your personal relationship with your child after spending more quality time together without mobile devices.
If you believe the issue is deeply rooted or the consumption of digital material is negatively impacting your teenager’s mental health, it may be wise to seek out the help and guidance of a therapist who can offer expert clinical help and support. They may even be able to offer an official diagnosis, opening up treatment plans that are more suited to a serious medical condition.